Friday, November 16, 2018

Peterloo: A very British massacre


By New Worker Cinema Correspondent

Peterloo (2018). Director: Mike Leigh. Stars: Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake and Neil Bell. 214
minutes. PG-13.

Waterloo – a field in Belgium where in 1815 the armies of Britain, Prussia and other European powers defeated the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. St Peters Field – a square in Manchester where on 19 August 1819 cavalry charged a crowd of unarmed protesters killing around 20 people.  The closeness of the two events led to the latter being called the Peterloo Massacre; an event now the subject of a feature film, Peterloo, directed by Mike Leigh.  The events in the field in Belgium were made into a film almost 50 years ago, in a film entitled {Waterloo}. A film about the events closer to home is long overdue.

Peterloo starts on the field of Waterloo where a bewildered soldier stares at the carnage around him; it them moves to the House of Lords where the Prime-Minister Lord Liverpool calls for a sum of £700,000 to be paid to the Duke of Wellington for his services to the nation.
The film brings up the issue of history. Whose history? Do we celebrate the aristocratic victory in a field in Belgium or commemorate the working-class victims of a massacre in our own country by an unrepresentative government? It is sympathetic to the largely working- and lower middle-class reform movement. In 1819 only landowners (male ones) could vote in elections, ordinary people suffered the effects of both a downturn in the economy and from the Corn Laws, a tariff in on imported grain that put up the price of bread, introduced by a government dominated by landed interests.
Peterloo features an array of British actors, including Rory Kinnear as the suffrage campaigner Henry Hunt and Maxine Peake as a matriarchal figure and mother of the soldier seen at the start of the film.
Leigh uses her character’s narrative to explain contemporary economic and social problems. Peake has made a success of playing prominent, working-class female characters and has sponsored a number of progressive campaigns.
The film portrays Hunt, a Wiltshire squire, as a pompous character with an exaggerated sense of his own importance. He insists on being the only speaker at the rally and demands that no armed men are present. The arms in question were little more than pieces of gardening equipment as opposed to the sabres and muskets used by the attacking soldiers.  Anyone who has been on a demonstration in recent years would understand that these men would have acted as stewards and their presence may have reduced loss of life.
Leigh captures the events of 14th August well. He portrays the rally as a family day out with protesters coming from across Lancashire. The massacre involved three separate regiments: the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry, a largely irregular group of cavalry who are shown as violent and dangerous drunks; the more disciplined 14 Hussars; and an infantry regiment garrisoned in the town.
The Manchester & Salford Yeomanry are portrayed as the real villains of the event, which is the view of historians of the period, whilst the infantry, although armed with rifles, were the most vulnerable.
The magistrates, mostly local landowners, who bear ultimate responsibility are portrayed as pompous reactionaries with a sense of entitlement who view the lower orders with a mixture of fear and contempt. It shows them as provoking the massacre; a magistrate reads the Riot Act written on what looks like a post-it note from the window overlooking the square when no one is listening or even able to hear.
We see unarmed members of the crowd killed with sabres; one of whom is the soldier shown at the start of the film. Historic records state show that one of the victims of the attack was John Lees, a veteran of Waterloo.
Peterloo raises the issue of patriotism. An informant who offers his services to the government describes himself as a patriot. At the end of the film Lord Liverpool and the Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth inform the Prince Regent of the events in Manchester; the three of them start mumbling the word “England” over again as if in some kind of trance.  How much of a force for good is it in a country not facing foreign domination?
This leads us to the issue of what should be taught in schools, the events in a field in Belgium or those in a square in Manchester? There is a public house about a mile from my home; I have frequently enjoyed a pint of ale, or two there. It is called the Waterloo Arms – maybe it’s time that its name was changed to reflect our history not theirs.

By the White Cliffs of Dover

Dover Castle -- the key to England
By Carole Barclay
Dover has been the gateway to England for thousands of years. The chalky cliffs were immortalised in song by Vera Lynn during the Second World War, and the castle and the subterranean defences on the cliffs that surround the ‘Key of England’ were maintained until the end of the Cold War.
The Romans built a port here guarded by a light-house whose remains can still be seen today. The Saxons fortified the cliffs overlooking the town and the Normans who followed erected a mighty tower that became a major coastal defence for centuries to come.
France is just 34 km away; you can see the French coast from the cliffs on any clear day. Our Bronze Age ancestors traded across the Channel in wooden boats, you can see the remains of one of them in the town’s museum. That trade never stopped.
By the Middle Ages Dover had become a bustling ferry port. It still is despite fierce competition from the Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1994. Although the ferries to Boulogne and Ostend have now gone, the remaining services to Calais and Dunkirk carried 11.7 million passengers, 2.6 million lorries, 2.2 million cars and motorcycles, and 80,000 coaches in 2017.
Dover is still Europe’s busiest ferry port and a major terminal for the cruise ships that pack two dedicated terminals in the summer. Most visitors make a bee-line to see the castle, which gives a glimpse of life in the medieval court of Henry II, and explore the underground tunnels that were the hub of the navy’s coastal operations, including the Dunkirk evacuation, during the Second World War.
Some of the tunnels were later converted to house a secret ‘regional seat of government’ and shelter for the chosen few during a nuclear war. These deep bunkers were only closed when the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Dover’s last military link finally ended with a service in the garrison church in 2014, the church continues today as a civilian place of worship in the heart of the castle. St Mary in Castro was built in Saxon days. By its side are the 24 metre-high remains of a Roman lighthouse or Pharos that was converted into a belfry during the middle ages.]’[
From the ramparts you can see the entire extent of the port of Dover in the valley below. On the other side is the Western Heights and its massive fortifications and earthworks. They were built during the Napoleonic Wars and were only decommissioned in 1961. The Citadel continued in use as a detention centre until 2015. Now a local nature reserve, most of this vast military complex can be explored by anyone who can manage the stiff walk up the hill!
Dover was hammered by German artillery during the war and most of the old town was destroyed, but it’s still worth wandering the streets. Dover Museum is a must, if only to see the Bronze Age boat discovered during road-works in 1992. The significant remains of a Roman mansion uncovered in the 1970s is another must-see during the tourist season. The Town Hall, which goes back to the 13th century, is also worth a visit.
Many churches in what is still a small town go back to Saxon and Norman days, such as what’s left of the church of St James that was destroyed by German shelling during the war. The surviving walls and the massive Norman gateway are now preserved as a memorial to the suffering of the people of Dover. The locals call it the “Tidy Ruin” and it’s easily reached on the road to the castle.
The Dover parliamentary seat fell to the Tories in 2010 but it will be one of Labour’s key targets in the next election. Charlotte Cornell was chosen as Labour’s prospective candidate in March. Charlotte, a former English teacher who works for the new Labour MP for nearby Canterbury, says: "My job is to earn the respect and trust of local people and explain how the realistic and positive policies of Jeremy Corbyn and the excellent Labour Manifesto will bring hope and ambition back to local people.”
The Roman ‘Painted House’ is open from April to September, and admission is £4 and £3 for children, students and pensioners. Entry to the Western Heights, the ‘Tidy Ruin’ and Dover Museum is free. Dover Castle tickets cost £20 with the usual concessions for students and pensioners, admission is free for English Heritage members. There’s free on-site parking for up to 200 cars, plus peak time and events off-site parking with a free mini-bus connection to the castle. There is also a regular bus service from Dover Priory Station.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

General election now!

The May government has, at last, published its plans for Brexit – a mealy-mouthed compromise with the European Union that reflects the deep divisions over Brexit within the British ruling class. Some MPs will welcome the commitment to remain in the EU customs union. For others, whose campaign for a second referendum has been boosted by the collapse of UKIP and the relentless equivocation of the Blairite back-stabbers in the Parliamentary Labour Party, it doesn’t go far enough. And it still leaves the country within the ambit of the economic controls of the EU.
Two years ago millions of people voted decisively to leave the EU. Brexit would mark a significant shift in the balance of power between capital and Labour in Britain. It would leave a Labour government free to trade with any country around the world and free to invest in British manufacturing industry. It would be a government ready to restore trade union rights and in so doing reverse the yawning wealth gap between rich and poor in Britain. It would be a government that could cap rents and burst the housing bubble that sees our cities’ forests of towering luxury homes owned by investment companies whilst our workers are forced to sleep on the streets.
We voted for Brexit and that’s what we want, and if the Tory-led coalition cannot deliver it – and it clearly can’t – then it must be brought down in parliament to pave the way for fresh elections.
For us the issue is clear. We want another election to get Labour in and the Tories out. We want Labour to stand by the people’s vote to leave the EU without any ifs or buts. And the surest guarantee of Brexit is a massive majority for Labour at the next election.